I'm worried about Dear Esther · Feb 13, 11:20 AM
As far as I can tell, there’s nothing inherently awful about computer games. No reason why they shouldn’tt aspire to be something all-together less embarrassing and shameless than 4th rate Steven Seagal action flicks. But for some reason, with fleetingly few exceptions, that’s all you get.
Dear Esther, is rather different.
It’s an experiment in psychology, story telling and interaction hatched in a laboratory at Portsmouth University that is being revived for re-release tomorrow. Dear Esther 2.0 has been reimagined, remastered and generally buffed and polished all over.
In it’s original incarnation it was a minor revelation: a strangely affecting radio play about loss, told in 3D, that only made you wish you had hands – so you could reach out and touch it – to affirm and connect with its bleak physicality. You didn’t play it, rather Dear Esther played mind games with you. The result was a small work of digital art. A first person poem.
But perhaps it was a stroke of luck? An anomalous result, contaminated by a bit of chance brilliance? Can the experiment be successfully repeated?
The original had some rough edges for sure, but that hardly mattered. The real world isn’t carefully polished – it is full of disease, disappointments and hard falls – it’s not always meticulously crafted for your convenience and satisfaction. Indeed, that’s just what Dear Esther was, if anything, about. Life is rough around the edges.
Esther set itself apart in a way because it felt like that real world, not a trite fantasy adventure land. The caves in Dear Esther were convincingly carved into the granite landscape by the toil of water and geology over millennia, not by an imaginative set artist. These caves weren’t made for you, you weren’t supposed to be there. That’s an important distinction.
Such mystery and inhospitable atmosphere that helped make Dear Esther a genuinely unique and memorable experience could so easily be lost to traditional ideas about good user centric design.
More than anything though, I’m curious. I’m itching to see whether Dear Esther was a fluke or if it really did know how to deliberately and methodically play games with my mind.
— Jay Pettitt
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